Philadelphia Metropolis


Gowing Up At 60th and Market

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"Wait, you didn't live near the school?" he asked.

"Definitely didn't," I answered.

"So where did you grow up?"

"On a little side street right by 60th and Market."

"You're lying!"

I wasn't. And, he wasn't the first person to think that surely I grew up in the mostly Jewish neighborhood that surrounded the public school he and I attended in the city's Overbrook Park section.  In his mind, there was no way that a woman in her mid-20s, with two degrees, childless and  enjoying a nice apartment in University City could have grown up as one of seven people living in a tiny three-bedroom rowhouse on a side street near 60th and Market Streets in West Philadelphia. But, I did.

For those unfamiliar with the area, it's far from aesthetically pleasing and while it's fair to say that no neighborhood is completely free of crime, this neighborhood seems to have its share and a couple other neighborhoods' shares, too.  Yet, growing up, I didn't notice all of this. This was my neighborhood and this was home.

At the end of the street I grew up on were burgundy pillars that if you followed them up with your eyes, as I so often did, you would see the tracks of the El. We only had to walk two blocks to catch the El. This was convenient for not-so athletic child such as me. The El was what I took with my mom to 69th Street to go shopping. The El that years ago had royal-blue plastic seats with red trim that I would plop into, letting my chubby legs dangle to the floor, while I stared out the window. Around the corner from my house was Mr. Harris' store.  I remember thinking I must have lived in a fairly nice neighborhood because Mr. Harris, the owner, lived on my street. My family went to Mr. Harris' for most of our hair care products, a big blue jar of Bergamont hair grease, and Luster's Pink Moisture Lotion. Mr. Harris was good for his hardy laugh that I knew came right from the bottom of his robust stomach and his twinkling brown eyes behind his thick brown-framed glasses. He reminded me of a black Santa.  A few stores down from Mr. Harris' store was the donut shop. The sweetest coffee cake rolls for $75 cents and great glazed donut holes, $1.00 for 12. So much dried sugar on my little brown fingers and rose-colored lips.

Across from the Asian donut shop was -- and still -- is the famous Tony Boys Breakfast Shop. While I would get my donuts, my older brother would get his hot sausage sandwiches from Tony Boys.  We would both meet at the Route 31 bus stop, which ran under the El along Market Street and took us to our school in Overbrook Park.

After school we'd take the same bus and get off and go to the SunRay across from Tony Boys. We'd get cherry cola now or a bag of Hotfries. Then we'd walk another block and go to our great- grandmother's home. Her house is where I colored some of my best drawings, wrote my best  five-paragraph essays, ate amazing syrup-and-bread sandwiches, learned to loathe and then like basketball, built up my tolerance for boys (my two older cousins and their five guy friends were there every day), and had some of my most memorable crushes (some of those 5 guys were handsome).  Her house held many family dinners, graduation parties, and it was where my siblings and I would go when my mother headed to the hospital to have another one of us.

Today, 60th and Market Streets continues to make the news for a rash of negative things. Whether it is gangs, drugs, or homicide, it is not good. I can't say I remember the last time the news broadcasted the 60th Street I knew and called home. What I can say is that as the holiday season draws near, and I gather with family and we remember celebrations past, I will recall the neighborhood that in so many ways loved me -- and I loved it back. I'll remember the laughter, running for buses, being scared of dogs, the Laundromat, the pizza shop, and discount stores.  I will remember Mrs. Baylor, Mr. Wells, the Macks, La Toya, Kristen and Ceasely, Dee Dee and Ms. Minnie. I will remember smiles and winks, free pieces of candy here and there, and being referred to as Carol or Allen's daughter, Joyce's niece, Joshua's sister. I will remember being in awe and wonder of my neighborhood and being quite grateful for growing up in a tiny three- bedroom rowhouse on a small side street near 60th and Market in West Philadelphia.

I will remember home.

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